VALENCIA - AN ASYMMETRIC CHALLENGE FOR MICHELIN
Final race of 2005 MotoGP season is a special challenge for MotoGP tyre designers
The longest, fastest and toughest MotoGP season comes to a close at Valencia this weekend, seven months and 15 countries after it roared into action at Jerez in early April.
Lap and race records have tumbled just about everywhere, with bike and tyre technology continuing to spiral in MotoGP's fourth season. Michelin, as always, contributed to the fast-increasing MotoGP pace, which included year-old race records broken by 46 seconds at Catalunya (on a new surface), 28 seconds at Losail, 18 seconds at the Sachsenring and 17 seconds at Phillip Island. At Jerez and Mugello, where rain affected the 2004 Spanish and Italian GPs, two-year-old race records were improved by an incredible 52 seconds and 45 seconds respectively, further underlining the dramatic pace of development in MotoGP.
Michelin goes into Sunday's Valencia finale having won 14 of the first 16 races and wrapped up the World Championship, its 14th consecutive premier-class success and its 25th crown over the past three decades.
Michelin has an impressive record at Valencia, where the company has won all six premier-class races staged at the track since its inaugural GP in 1999. Spain is MotoGP's most visited nation, with three races held in the country, at Jerez, Catalunya and Valencia. Spain also plays a vital role in Michelin's motorcycling successes. Around 9000 people work for Michelin in the country, and the company's massive Lasarte factory, in the Basque region, produces the bulk of Michelin's global motorcycle tyre output.
MICHELIN RIDER ALEX BARROS AND VALENCIA
Alex Barros (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) is the most experienced rider in MotoGP, with a premier-class career that stretches back a decade and a half. The 35-year-old Brazilian has ridden in more than 250 GPs, 226 of them in the premier class. And he has enjoyed great success at Valencia, winning the first MotoGP event staged at the track in 2002. The previous year he finished second in the last Valencia 500 GP.
"Valencia is a very short track, but it's also fun to ride," says Barros. "It's got some different corners, mostly medium speed, but turn one is fast and I love the last two corners, you're coming over the hill in turn 13 with the rear tyre spinning, looking for the last moment to brake into the final turn with the bike still on its side.
"Physically, it's a difficult track to ride, with lots of wheelying. That's why we work a lot on the engine mapping to calm down the power. We take off almost as much power as we do at Laguna, which is even tighter than Valencia. At Laguna run the bike with the mapping even softer than we use for the rain!
"The Valencia surface can be quite aggressive, so it's best if the weather's not too warm, but also not too cold. The track isn't that heavy on the front, though you need good front stability for braking into turns one and two, and you need good confidence on the edge of the tyre for trail braking into turn four and also into the last corner. The big issue is the rear tyre, the track is quite hard on the left of the rear because there are a lot of corners, so you're always on the throttle.
"The biggest improvement in tyre performance this year has been the rear - more grip than before but even more endurance. We have also been working hard on front-tyre development, so far I've tested maybe 30 different compounds. I think this is the big work now because the Michelin rear is already pretty amazing."
MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF VALENCIA
Valencia is one of the slower venues on the MotoGP calendar, with the track packing in no less than 14 corners into 4.005km/2.489 miles of tarmac. The Mediterranean venue is also one of five anti-clockwise MotoGP circuits with a heavy bias of left-handers - nine lefts to five rights - which is a major part of the circuit's challenge to tyre designers. "It is quite a tough track for tyres, because it's one of the most asymmetric tracks and because that last, long left- hander puts a lot of heat into the tyres," explains Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions Nicolas Goubert. "Like Phillip Island, the crucial aspect of tyre design for Valencia is finding a good balance between the rear-tyre compounds for the left-handers and right-handers. The weather can make it particularly difficult. We can expect a ground temperature of anything between 15 and 30 degrees, and if it's towards the lower end of that range, then it becomes quite a challenge to get the balance exactly right.
"Going into this last race we can look back at the season so far and say it's been a great year for us. We have won all but two of the 16 races so far, with new race records and lap records at pretty much every track, with the fastest laps often established at the very end of races, which proves that our tyres offer excellent consistency and endurance. We had a tough time at a couple of tracks, though our rivals were only really strong at the same tracks at which they had already been strong last year. Also, we won both wet races, in China and Britain, and the only damp race, in Portugal. "We have also been very happy to see two new winners in MotoGP- Nicky (Hayden, Repsol Honda Team RC211V- Michelin) and Marco (Melandri, Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) which promises exciting times ahead, with 250 World Champion Dani Pedrosa also moving up to work with us in MotoGP next year.
"We are already looking towards 2006 because we begin our winter testing programme at Valencia on the Wednesday and Thursday after the final race, testing with Honda. Then we have a three-day session at Sepang, with Honda and Yamaha, on November 28, 29 and 30. After that we have the Christmas break, which we are quite looking forward to!"